Google facing antitrust war of attrition as US Senate hearing looms

Adding further credence to notions that Google is the new Microsoft, Google CEO Eric Schmidt will face a US Senate hearing which looks to investigate whether the company is now so large and dominant that it now constitutes a monopoly.

The primary issue in this hearing is whether Google gives preference to its own websites or products in search results. Whilst what the outcomes of this particular hearing, titled “The Power of Google: Serving Consumers or Threatening Competition?”, may not be clear, history might provide some clues as to what might occur.

In March 1998, then Microsoft CEO Bill Gates faced a similar hearing. Two months later Microsoft was served with an antitrust suit, the effects of which only fully ended earlier this year.

Google has faced increased scrutiny in both the US and Europe in recent times.

In Europe, Google has been facing a probe from the European Union Competition Commission looking at claims that the search engine-giant was lowering the ranking of unpaid search results of services competing with those it offers.

In the European investigation, similar to the US Senate hearing, the primary aim is to ascertain whether any action needs to be taken. One of the complainants in the European inquiry, ironically, is Microsoft.

In previous and ongoing investigations in the US, Google has had run-ins with state investigators and the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), which is tasked with consumer protection and the regulation of harmful business practices across the entire US.

When Google was served with papers from the FTC, Google Fellow Amit Singhal wrote in a blog post that it was “unclear exactly what the FTC’s concerns are.”

The Wall Street Journal, speaking to “people familiar with the probe,” however now reports that beyond looking into Google’s search business, the FTC is also looking whether Google is barring Android smartphone makers from using competitors’ services.

In an interview that aired in the run-up to the Senate hearing, Eric Schmidt spoke with Christiane Amanpour, about the hearing.

“I think it’s fine that they’re investigating these sorts of questions,” he said, before adding “I think that’s appropriate, in a democracy.”

When questioned about whether Google favoured its own services, Schmidt said “We’re here to serve consumers and do it quickly.”

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Eric Schmidt discussing antitrust investigations with Christiane Amanapour



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